EU signs off Boris Johnson's Brexit deal as Juncker warns of no more extensions

The UK will find out on Saturday whether Brexit will take place at the end of this month after a dramatic day in which Jean-Claude Juncker said the EU will not support any further delays.

The EU Commission President said the deal was a “fair” outcome and warned MPs that they must back it in a special sitting of Parliament on Saturday or face the prospect of crashing out with no deal.

The dramatic intervention came after Boris Johnson confirmed he had struck what he described as a “great new deal that takes back control”.

The agreement was backed by all 27 EU states on Wednesday evening at the EU Summit in Brussels. MPs will now have their say this weekend.

The pound surged on the news the Prime Minister had agreed a new deal.

‘No prolongation’

The comments by Mr Juncker ruling out a delay are a significant boost to Mr Johnson.

They mean MPs are effectively faced with a vote that essentially amounts to a choice between the deal on the table and leaving without an agreement.

Speaking to reporters, Mr Juncker said said: “There will be no prolongation. We’ve concluded the deal and there is no argument on further delay.”

However numerous commentators have pointed out Mr Juncker does not have the power to take an extension off the table. Instead his intervention is viewed as a move to pile extra pressure on MPs to back the deal.

All 27 member states would have to agree to block an extension - a decision that is highly unlikely if the alternative was a no-deal Brexit, which would be economically damaging to the EU.

‘A great new deal’

The Prime Minister tweeted on Thursday morning: “We’ve got a great new deal that takes back control — now Parliament should get Brexit done on Saturday so we can move on to other priorities like the cost of living, the NHS, violent crime and our environment.”

Mr Juncker said the deal was a “fair and balanced agreement” and urged the EU Council to back it.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson shakes hands with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker during a press point at EU headquarters in Brussels, Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019. Britain and the European Union reached a new tentative Brexit deal on Thursday, hoping to finally escape the acrimony, divisions and frustration of their three-year divorce battle. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
Boris Johnson shakes hands with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at EU headquarters in Brussels. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

In a letter to European Council President Donald Tusk, Mr Juncker wrote: “While I deeply regret the outcome of the referendum of 23 June 2016, I continue to believe that the European Union is best served by an orderly and amicable withdrawal of the United Kingdom from our Union.

“Our hand should always remain outstretched as the United Kingdom will remain a key partner of the European Union in the future.”

Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, said he believes the new deal can be ratified by 31 October. Mr Barnier told a press conference that Mr Johnson is confident he can get a deal through Parliament.

What happens next?

The Prime Minister now faces the enormous challenge of persuading MPs to back his revised deal.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) have confirmed they will vote against Mr Johnson’s Brexit deal.

It is extremely difficult to see how the PM will now be able to drum up enough support the get the deal approved.

The party said in a statement: “Following confirmation from the Prime Minister that he believes he has secured a ‘great new deal’ with the European Union the Democratic Unionist Party will be unable to support these proposals in Parliament.

“The Democratic Unionist Party has worked since the referendum result to secure a negotiated deal as we leave the European Union. We have been consistent that we will only ever consider supporting arrangements that are in Northern Ireland’s long-term economic and constitutional interests and protect the integrity of the Union.”

In order to get his deal through Parliament, Mr Johnson will now need the backing of a significant number of Labour MPs, as well as the 21 former Conservatives who were expelled from the party after voting to block no deal.

MPs will vote on the deal during an emergency session in the House of Commons on Saturday.

If Parliament fails to approve the deal, the PM is legally obligated to request a Brexit delay.

The EU Council also needs to approve the deal during a two-day summit in Brussels that began on Thursday morning, which they are widely expected to do.

Why does the DUP object to the deal?

The DUP objects to the idea of a customs border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, as well as the issues of consent regarding the suspended Stormont Assembly.

Another major issue in the PM’s proposals are whether EU VAT rates would apply in Northern Ireland.

The PM, who does not have a majority in Parliament, relies on the votes of the 10 DUP MPs to pass legislation. The Northern Irish party also influences the voting of the ERG, the hard Brexiteer group of Conservative MPs.

The DUP said: “These proposals are not, in our view, beneficial to the economic well-being of Northern Ireland and they undermine the integrity of the Union. Our main route of trade on an East–West basis will be subject to rules of the European Union Customs Union, notwithstanding that Northern Ireland will remain part of the UK Customs territory.

“All goods would be subject to a customs check regime regardless of their final destination. The default position, even for goods travelling from one part of our country to another, is that they are considered under the EU Customs code unless otherwise agreed.”

Britain's Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay poses with European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier ahead of a meeting at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium October 11, 2019.  Francisco Seco/Pool via REUTERS
Britain's Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay poses with European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier last week. (Reuters)

What is in Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal?

It is understood the UK and EU agreed a final draft of a Brexit deal after a last-minute concession by Boris Johnson over the issue of the Northern Irish border.

The Prime Minister agreed to the EU’s proposal of a customs border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK - a proposal initially offered to Theresa May that she rejected on the grounds that it amounts to the break-up of the union.

Mr Johnson had already also accepted that Northern Ireland will remain in the EU’s single market for goods.

The UK’s proposal for the DUP to have a veto over the customs arrangements contained in the new deal has been scrapped.

Instead, the full Northern Ireland assembly will decide by majority whether they wish to continue with the system after a period of four years.

Negotiators finally reached a consensus on Thursday after last-ditch talks.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrives for a meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at Downing Street in London, Britain October 15, 2019.  REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
MPs will meet for an emergency session on Saturday to vote on the deal. (Reuters)

‘Worse than Theresa May’s deal’

Jeremy Corbyn responded to the news by saying Mr Johnson’s deal is worse than that agreed by his predecessor Theresa May.

The Labour leader said: “From what we know, it seems the prime minister has negotiated an even worse deal than Theresa May’s, which was overwhelmingly rejected.

“These proposals risk triggering a race to the bottom on rights and protections: putting food safety at risk, cutting environmental standards and workers’ rights, and opening up our NHS to a takeover by US private corporations.

“This sell out deal won’t bring the country together and should be rejected. The best way to get Brexit sorted is to give the people the final say in a public vote.”

Labour confirmed this morning the party would back an amendment to have a second referendum on Mr Johnson’s deal when MPs vote on Saturday.